There’s a tremendous amount of materials development taking place now to protect and improve the performance of the modern solider. One of the materials being actively investigated isn’t new at all, however. It’s wool—the same material used by the Army of the Potomac in the 1860s. The Marine Corps temporarily banned the wearing of synthetic materials by combat troops after soldiers sustained serious burns from clothing that burned, and sometimes melted, fusing to skin. Short-term, soldiers shifted to all-aramid clothing, an expensive and uncomfortable solution. The Army Soldier Systems Center has been developing a family of woolen, flame-resistant woven and knitted fabrics to replace polyester and nylon. The American Sheep Industry Association and the American Wool Council developed two knit fabrics and one woven fabric that are flame retardant. The US Army is current considering a fabric that is a blend of 50 percent wool and 50 percent Nomex, a meta-aramid made by DuPont. Wool improves the comfort and reduces the cost. TenCate Southern Mills received a million dollar order from the US Army to provide Lenzing FR rayon, for the Defender M program in which a fabric with a camouflage print made from Lenzing FR and para-aramid or polyamide. Lenzing FR may also be paired with wool in another program under evaluation.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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